Different Types of Hay for Your Horse
There are a variety of factors to bear in mind when choosing the correct hay for your horse. These are all to do with matching the physical specifications and daily activity of your horse to the nature of the hay in question. Also considering what it will offer your horse’s system. Specific details to note should be things like your horse's breed, body type, age, weight, workload and metabolism.
Since an adult horse should be eating around 2% to 2.5% of its body weight per day, it is crucial to know exactly what you are feeding your horse. As a result of this, it is certainly worth consulting your veterinarian and nutrition experts to help you with this assessment. Also, you should think about having your hay tested to find out precisely what it is that your horse is eating.
On choosing the hay itself though, there are various options. Here we will look at a few of the important varieties you might consider going for.
One of the great benefits of alfalfa, which is also sometimes known as lucerne hay and is generally the most popular and highly regarded type of hay, is its high protein content. This protein content is between 15% and 21%, depending on when the grower cuts the alfalfa. This is important to consider if you have young horses, working performance horses, or lactating mares, all of which would need a higher protein intake than the 10% to 12% average requirement for normal adult horses.
Alfalfa hay usually contains a relatively high amount of calories but low amount of fibre. This means that horses are able to maintain their weight without eating as much. However, this does of course also mean that their may be a chance of the horses putting on excess weight if their consumption is at a high level in comparison to if they were eating lower calorie packed hay such as grass hay.
As mentioned above, grass hay typically has a lower protein and calorie content than alfalfa hay. This can be a benefit for certain kinds of horses. If you have mature horses for example, or non-working horses, or horses which are not breeding, then they will not need as much energy and protein, and so a grass hay diet can be preferable.
Additionally, if you have a horse that is prone to gaining too much weight, and this is often the case when it comes to ponies and miniature breeds, then the relatively high fibre to low protein and energy content can be advantageous because it means that feeding can be taking place without the threat of your animals becoming unhealthily overweight or obese. On top of that, grass hay tends not to get as dusty as alfalfa hay, making it a good choice for horses with respiratory problems.
A specific kind of grass hay which you might want to consider is Timothy hay. Made from Timothy grass which is native to most of Europe apart from the Mediterranean regions, people have used it as a major source to feed horses in Britain since the mid 18th century. It is relatively high in fibre, though growers need to cut it late in order for this fibre content to cultivate. If they cut it too early then it may also be too course and harsh for pleasant feeding. Though, with that said, its generally more abrasive qualities mean that it is in fact beneficial for your horse’s teeth and jaw health.